Education

Corporate crime buster

A tycoon funds a centre for the study of foul play

STEVIE CAMERON March 24 1997
Education

Corporate crime buster

A tycoon funds a centre for the study of foul play

STEVIE CAMERON March 24 1997

Corporate crime buster

Education

A tycoon funds a centre for the study of foul play

STEVIE CAMERON

Mark Nathanson is flustered, clearly not used to questions about his life and his career. “I’ve lived in the shadows,” he says. “Quietly.”

Not so quietly now. This week, at a ceremony in Toronto, Solicitor General Herb Gray will lead an international group of academics, politicians, judges, police officers and lawyers in a celebration of an extraordinary, $3million gift that Nathanson has made to Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. Its purpose: to fund the Jack and Mae Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime and Corruption. The centre, named after Nathanson’s parents, is the only one of its kind in Canada, and has few counterparts anywhere in the world.

Nathanson, sitting in the spacious condominium in downtown Toronto that he visits a few weeks each year. “But I didn’t want to live on a policeman’s salary. I had to make some money first.”

While Nathanson has built a business empire that spans the globe, the academic venture he is now funding will study the ways in which the global economy has made both

companies and countries increasingly vulnerable to organized crime. “Canadians tend to believe the best of each other,” says Osgoode Hall dean Marilyn Pilkington. “But they can’t afford to be vulnerable through lack of awareness.” To open immediately, the centre will be headed by York criminologist Margaret Beare, author of Criminal Conspiracies: Organized Crime in Canada, published last year. And its advisory board reads like a who’s who of criminal law: Ward Elcock, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, RCMP Commissioner Philip Murray, Toronto police Chief David Boothby, lawyers Edward Greenspan and John Rosen (defence lawyer of convicted murderer Paul Bernardo), and Antonio Nicaso, managing editor at the Italian-language daily Corriere Canadese, and an expert on organized crime, who conceived the original idea for the centre.

Working with officials at York, that impressive team has created an interdisciplinary graduate centre that will offer up to eight fellowships a year to students in a range of disciplines, including law, criminology, sociology, economics and political science. Along with professors from across the university, students will investigate ways to improve the efforts of governments, police forces and private businesses to understand the world of organized crime. According to Beare, it is a world that increasingly crosses both international borders—and the more nebulous divide between underworld operations and white collar activities. “When the Russian mafia first came to Canada, they relied on violence,” notes Beare. “That is less true now. Like any criminal group, it can substitute corruption for violence, and influence officials that way.”

For Nathanson, the centre reflects an

And the man funding it is intriguing in his own right. At 50, Nathanson, one of two children of a family that operated a wholesale grocery company in Sydney, N.S., has quietly built an immense fortune with an impressive array of enterprises: from African gold mining to consumer electronics, and from intelligence equipment used by governments to an international forensic investigation company headed by his close friend and partner, Rod Stander, former assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “I always wanted to be a policeman,” says

EDUCATION—

abiding interest in the complexities of organized crime—and a fitting addition to a career that has spanned the globe. A dropout of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., Nathanson, who now lives in the Bahamas with his wife, Maria, first moved abroad in 1971. From a base in England, he marketed consumer electronics products across Europe. In 1983, he launched a business selling intelligence equipment in Africa. By the second half of the decade, he had founded a gold mining company in Mali whose discoveries include a deposit now estimated to contain eight million ounces. Today, International African Mining Gold Corporation, known as IAMGOLD, is exploring fields in three South American countries, and is involved in joint ventures exploring others in five African states.

In 1990, working with former RCMP assistant commissioner Stamler, Nathanson established International FIA Holdings Ltd. (the acronym stands for Forensic Investigative Associates). Acting, in the words of Stamler, “almost like a private Interpol,” it searches out embezzlers and other white collar criminals, and traces and recovers stolen assets.

Then, in 1995, Nathanson and Stamler started kicking around another idea: establishing an academic centre that could link experts, and develop further knowledge, in the shady world of which they were fast becoming hands-on experts. York, they decided, was a natural choice. Nathanson admired York’s accomplishments in business, sociology, ethics and law. “For me,” he says, “Osgoode Hall represents Canadian law.”

For York, Nathanson’s gift will create unique opportunities to blend those disciplines, and to consolidate several existing specialties. “We’ll be drawing on Osgoode’s strengths in criminal law, banking law and policing,” explains Pilkington. The centre may also work on international legal assistance treaties and run programs on such topics as the growth of criminal activity on the Internet. Before long, says Pilkington, the centre plans to be drafting laws to respond to the problems of globalized criminal activity.

As the centre makes its mark on the world of crime, the man who has made it possible says he has no intention of putting his own stamp on its future direction. “All I asked for was the name, to honor my parents,” says Nathanson. “I don’t want any say in the programs.” But before getting back to the business of running the international empire he has quietly created, one of Canada’s most private tycoons will be very publicly toasted at the program’s launch this week. There, police officers from Canada, the United States and Europe will take part in the centre’s first symposium—a panel discussion on organized crime—and pay tribute to a onetime aspiring policeman who is now fighting crime his own way. □